The release of Mockingjay – Part 1 marks the beginning of the end for the box-office-smashing franchise based on Suzanne Collins’s popular Hunger Games trilogy of novels.
Following a trend set by the bisecting of the final Harry Potter tome, Deathly Hallows, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Mockingjay has been split into two movies, made back-to-back during one epic shoot.
This means that fans will have to wait a year to see the series’ explosive finale. For Jennifer Lawrence, however, playing Katniss Everdeen – the girl from District 12 whose courageous stand on behalf of her younger sister, Prim, put her on a collision course with the repressive president of Panem, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) – is already a thing of the past.
“I cried on the first day of our 10-month movie shoot,” she says. “Francis [Lawrence, the director] was like: ‘What’s wrong?’ I said: ‘I can’t stand thinking about it being over.’ He goes: ‘You won’t feel that way in a year.’ He was wrong. I was still crying.”
Mockingjay – Part 1 is the series’ toughest episode yet. Left traumatised by two Hunger Games – televised contests in which children from different districts in the fictitious country of Panem fight for their lives – Katniss is in a dark place. Literally, because she’s been taken to the subterranean District 13 after surviving the events of the second film, Catching Fire, and psychologically and emotionally because of her experiences thus far.
“She felt almost like an entirely different character, because she is so stripped down and feeling so empty,” says Lawrence. “She’s suffered from post-traumatic stress. She wakes up in a district she didn’t even know existed. She’s completely bare and has to rebuild herself.”
Although fiction, the world of The Hunger Games has always touched upon reality. Collins wrote the novels as a way of communicating to a young audience what she had learnt about war from her father, who served in the military. In Mockingjay – Part 1, all-out war looms as a rebellion – unwittingly precipitated by Katniss – against Panem’s rulers gathers pace. She reluctantly becomes the face of the revolution and, via a propaganda campaign, a lightning rod for uniting the country’s divided districts. While the story of people rising up against an oppressive regime is nothing new, things are not as black and white as they might appear at first.
“War is always messy,” says Francis Lawrence. “It’s much more shades of grey – it’s never very clean and there are always consequences.”
A key idea in the films, as in the books, though, is that individuals can make a huge difference. The actress Julianne Moore, a newcomer to the franchise, believes that part of the reason for the success of The Hunger Games comes from Collins’s engagement with questions that are important to adolescents.
“There’s that point in your life where you’re still under your parents’ control and you can see the future and you’re like: ‘Once I’m out there, who am I going to be?’ This series is really about that,” she says. “It’s about a young woman who moves from adolescence into adulthood and she changes the world, which is every kid’s hope.”
Sutherland says that he got involved because he hoped the films could be a “catalyst for young people who had been dormant [politically] for a generation or two, particularly in the United States”.
“The Occupy movement fizzled out because it didn’t have a leader,” he says. “I hope that these films will, in some way, become or create a leader who will put young people together in a way that they will understand.”
This perhaps sounds a little fanciful and ambitious, but there is no denying that the films are making an impact. In Thailand, for example, protesters have adopted the three-finger, pro-freedom Mockingjay salute in demonstrations against the military junta. Francis Lawrence admits to having mixed feelings about this.
“It is thrilling that something that happens in the movie can become a symbol for people,” he says. “The thing that’s disturbing, though, is that it’s this kind of weird reflection where we’re mirroring what’s happening in the world and suddenly it’s mirroring back.
“When kids start getting arrested for it, there’s a lot more at stake and it takes the thrill, obviously, out of it, and it becomes a lot more dangerous and just makes the feelings much more complex. It’s troubling.”
Be that as it may, with Mockingjay – Part 2 still to come, and a Hunger Games stage show planned for London’s West End, Katniss Everdeen’s influence looks likely to get stronger.
From The National